Marine Conservation Institute undertook this report on the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Program for the purpose of enhancing the conservation prospects of one of the world’s most endangered pinnipeds. The Hawaiian monk seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi), whose estimated population now hovers between 900 and 1,100 animals, has suffered a 60-year decline despite the efforts of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and others to reverse it. Although some may view the seal’s fate as hopeless, it is not. Despite difficult circumstances, NMFS and its partners have made progress on several fronts to slow the seal’s decline. Encouragingly, NMFS estimates that up to 32 per cent of all seals living in 2012 were alive because of hundreds of interventions taken by the agency over many years to enhance the survival of individual seals at risk.
Nevertheless, the recovery program faces several challenges that must be met if the program is going to meet its current long term goal of having a population of 3,200 seals, with 500 individuals in the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) and 2,900 in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). With a good strategy, sufficient resources, and effective coordination among its several partners, we think NMFS can accelerate progress toward achieving and maintaining a healthy population of monk seals. But it is not going to be easy.
Chandler, W., E. Douce, K. Shugart-Schmidt, T. Watson, M. Sproat, F. Rosenstiel, K. Yentes, X. Escovar-Fadul, and T. Laubenstein. 2015. Enhancing the future of the Hawaiian monk seal: recommendations for the NOAA recovery program. Marine Conservation Institute. Seattle, WA: 1-80. [PDF 4.3MB]
The Final PEIS for Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Actions was made available for public review from April 11 to May 12, 2014. The Preferred Alternative identified in the Final PEIS is Alternative 3, Limited Translocation. The Preferred Alternative does not include any translocation option that involves moving seals born in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and releasing them in the main Hawaiian Islands. The Final PEIS is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/eis/hawaiianmonkseal.htm.
NOAA Fisheries has issued the Record of Decision for the Final PEIS, which summarizes the alternatives considered, identifies the preferred alternative (Alternative 3, Limited Translocation) and why it was chosen, and identifies required mitigation and monitoring. NOAA Fisheries plans to implement Alternative 3 and permit and conduct the research and enhancement activities included in this alternative.
The Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program is posting some fascinating updates and observations on its Facebook page from its latest tour of duty among the far-flung atolls of the North Western Hawaiian Islands. Here is the latest:
Notes from the Field: Update from Laysan Island Monk Seal Team
We have hit the field running on Laysan. For a reunited, returning crew, it has been relatively easy to do just that. With the field camp up and running by the end of offload day, we were able to start surveys our second day on island.
Within the first week, we were able to tag all 21 weaned pups. Tags are placed on the hind flippers to give each seal a unique set of tags used to identify that seal throughout its life. Once these pups were tagged, it was onto the next set of priorities. → Continue reading Notes from the Field
In 2010 and 2011 NOAA Fisheries staff began to observe a nine-year old monk seal, KE18, attacking newly weaned and juvenile seals at Kure Atoll in the NWHI; causing injuries including lacerations, scratches and puncture wounds on this critical component of the monk seal population. KE18 seriously injured 10 of the 13 pups and an additional three juveniles during the 2010 and 2011 field camps on Kure Atoll. When KE18 transited to Midway Atoll there were two unexplained deaths during his time there.
Media Watch, Honolulu Star Advertiser, 15 January 2012
[…] The current theory is that the ancient ancestors of today’s Hawaiian monk seals began exploring from their original home in the Caribbean 3 million years ago through what is now Central America during a time of global climate change, said Charles Littnan, program leader for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hawaiian monk seals research.
“We don’t know how long that immigration took to occur, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years,” Littnan said. “We do know that quite dramatic climate change was happening, and these are tropical animals that will have to go to where they are better adapted to survive. They probably went to other areas and didn’t survive. But Hawaii was this perfect match for this far-traveling seafarer.” […]
Media Watch, News Release, Lingle US Senate 2012, 29 November 2011
HONOLULU – Former Governor Linda Lingle sent a letter today to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regarding their proposed rule to designate the main Hawaiian Islands as a critical habitat for the Hawaiian Monk Seal.
She released the following statement:
“A recent proposal by the Federal Government to make 4,787 square miles of land and water in Hawaii a federal critical habitat is another example of government over-reach and insensitivity to the concerns of the people of this State.